HEAT VISION

'Shazam!' and the Spielberg Effect

There’s something about the trailers that suggests the 1980s family movie output of the filmmaker.

There’s something unexpectedly nostalgic about the new trailer for Warner Bros.’ Shazam!, and it’s not the use of Eminem’s 20-year-old track “My Name Is.” (Yes, it’s 20 years old this year — you’re older than you thought.) Instead, it’s that the trailer suggests that Shazam! will be that increasingly rare thing: a live-action superhero movie that is fun, without the need to tease a connection to a larger storyline around the corner.

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Shazam! — a movie which, judging by the trailers, leans far heavier on the comedy side of things than the traditional Marvel movie, never mind the more traditionally serious Warner Bros./DC output — has a lightness of touch to its trailers that most superhero movies lack. Beyond the fact that, as Richard Newby pointed out, the character doesn’t really have a lot of darkness to him in general, there are three reasons why Billy Batson’s alter ego was smart to keep his eyes on a particularly optimistic, fun horizon:

Stand out from the crowd: There’s a purity to the Shazam! trailers that hasn’t been present in superhero movies since…the Christopher Reeve Superman features, perhaps…? It’s not merely that the movie lacks the self-consciousness of other superhero comedies like Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man or Deadpool; there’s something more wholesome on view in Zachary Levi’s kid-turned-adult superhero and the movie’s treatment of the transformative idea. If the worst thing Shazam! can think to do with newfound adulthood is to buy beer, it’s clear that this is going to be a family-friendly movie in a way that few others have managed in quite some time. If director David F. Sandberg was looking for a way to differentiate Shazam! from all the other superhero properties out there, then making the anti-Deadpool might be a pretty smart direction in which to go.

The DC movies are trending happier: For a franchise that was once derided for its dedication to characters grimacing as each other in the rain (we still love you, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice), it’s worth noting that Warner Bros. has been taking noticeable steps to turn down the angst when it comes to DC superheroes. It’s a move that seems to be going down well with the audience, judging by the success of Wonder Woman and Aquaman. The Zack Snyder/Joss Whedon pairing on Justice League aside — that didn’t really leave anyone fully satisfied — Shazam! feels very much like the natural next step from the Day-Glo underwater antics of Jason Momoa in December. (Next step: a live-action version of Teen Titans Go, obviously.)

The Spielberg effect: Perhaps it’s that Shazam! plays more than a little like a superheroic version of Big in these trailers — although that Tom Hanks movie came out four decades after Billy Batson first spoke his magic word in the comic books — but there’s something about the trailers that suggests the 1980s family-movie output of Steven Spielberg. If this was intentional, it follows Bumblebee’s similar feel and, going back some years, J.J. Abrams’ very intentional Spielberg-ian homage Super 8 from 2011. Factor in the revival of Jurassic Park as a franchise and perhaps we should start to wonder if “Spielberg-ian” can be properly considered a viable adjective for movies at this point. Now, if only Spielberg would get cracking on that Blackhawk movie sometime soon…

Shazam! will be released April 5, allowing audiences to see if the finished movie lives up to the promises made in the trailers.

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